The Myth of New Content: Why Apex Legends Really Lost to Fortnite

As I design my own game (a card game, actually), I’ve been listening to many analyses of why certain games did or did not meet expectations. In the past year, one game that definitely did not meet expectations is Apex Legends. Here’s one analysis I listened to:

“Apex Legends Is A Dying Game”

Summary: Apex Legends failed to reach Fortnite-level popularity partly because it didn’t put out enough new content. (Note: This is not referring to cosmetics.) An example is how within the 2-3 month time period after the release of Apex Legends, Respawn Entertainment created one new character and weapon and no map changes, whereas Epic Games adds new weapons and map changes every single week.

I disagree. I think this analysis is both lazy and wrong.

  1. There are PLENTY of successful games that did not rely on producing “new content” every week, every month, or even every year. I’m sure you can name many yourself. Dota 2, one of my favorite games, releases a big patch once a year, for example. Among other games I am familiar with: CSGO, WOW, and Overwatch have all produced new non-cosmetic content at irregular, sometimes even yearly, intervals and have done quite well.
  2. Fortnite isn’t popular because it releases new content every week, its popular because its a dumbed-down Battle Royale with much wider appeal. Its insane to think that Apex Legends was ever going to reach Fortnite-level popularity regardless of how much content it put out.

    The investors (referenced in the video) can claim that Apex’s initial surge was “acquired, not organic” (which I only partially agree with) all they want, but its their fault for thinking Fortnite and Apex were ever on the same playing field.

    The reality is that Apex, as a more mature, serious battle royale game, was never competing with the cartoonish, teen-focused Fortnite. It was competing with PUBG. Indeed, it did take players from PUBG.
  3. If consumers need new content to keep returning to a game, then I have to question whether that game or genre is actually good at all. I certainly never needed more than the occasional balance patch to want to play Dota for thousands of hours on end. Consequently, this talk of demanding new content seems like an implicit admission by even the players themselves that the battle royale genre isn’t particularly good.

    And I agree. I never played Fortnite or Apex for more than a few hours because the thrill of being the last man standing didn’t outweigh the tedium of hunting for loot, the luck factor, and the lack of overall strategy.
  4. Change isn’t always good. Aside from indicating that your game isn’t properly balanced or isn’t inherently enjoyable, it also makes it harder for players to return to the game after breaks. No one wants to relearn a map or memorize X new features just for fun. This is one of the reasons I stopped playing Magic: the Gathering. Having to learn hundreds of new cards ever six months gets really old after a while. Unsurprisingly, a new community-created format called “cube” has become incredibly popular, in which people draft only from a specific pool of cards of their choosing. They basically create their own eternal format that only changes as much as they want it to.

When I release my game, I’m going to resist the allure or requests of producing content just to create artificial “freshness”. Instead I’m going to focus my efforts on the design of the game itself and whether it can successfully deliver the experience I want for my customers. That will cause me to lose certain customers, and I’m OK with that. Personally, I like Dota 2’s model of doing one major patch each year with several smaller balance patches throughout the year. In the context of my card game, that means doing something more similar to what MTG players do with cubes rather than how CCGs or even LCGs typically produce content.